Whoa: French Bee’s 488-Seat Airbus A350s

Filed Under: Other Airlines

French Bee will soon take delivery of an A350 with 488 seats, which will be the world’s most efficient long haul plane. I’m undecided as to whether this is an incredible feat, or just sounds plain awful.

French Bee A350-1000 will feature 488 seats

French Bee is a low cost long haul airline that commenced operations in 2016. The airline has historically operated flights from Paris Orly to Tahiti (via San Francisco) and Reunion, and in the coming months the airline is supposed to launch a Paris to Newark flight as well.

French Bee routes

French Bee currently operates a fleet of four A350-900s. Later this year the carrier’s fleet will grow, as it will take delivery of two additional A350s. However, the last two A350s will be the larger version of the plane, which is the A350-1000.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable about this is just how many seats the plane will have. French Bee’s A350-1000 will feature a total of 488 seats, including 40 premium economy seats and 448 economy seats.

To be clear, this isn’t really disproportionate to French Bee’s current A350-900s, which feature 411 seats, including 35 premium economy seats and 376 economy seats. Rather it’s just the sheer number of seats we’re talking about that’s remarkable here.

French Bee A350 premium economy

Just to compare this to some other airlines operating the A350-1000:

French Bee A350 economy

French Bee’s A350-1000 will likely be the world’s lowest cost long haul aircraft in terms of per-seat operating costs. The A350 is incredibly fuel efficient to begin with, and then on top of that no airline has installed as many seats on a twin-engine long haul aircraft (All Nippon Airways has 514 seats on its 777-300s, but those are specifically used for short haul domestic flights).

Just to put this into context, Virgin Atlantic used to operate a 747-400 in a leisure configuration with just 14 business class seats, and those featured “just” 455 total seats. And the economics of the 747-400 are much worse than those of the A350-1000.

Does a plane this dense make sense?

I’m fascinated by French Bee’s A350-1000, and have a few conflicting thoughts here. Historically the long haul, low cost airline business model simply doesn’t work… just ask Norwegian. So could this be any different?

  • French Bee’s configuration is materially more efficient than what we’ve seen from other long haul airlines, and the per-seat operating costs here must be wildly low; for example, these planes will feature 150 more seats than Norwegian’s 787-9s did
  • At the same time, this efficiency is only worth anything if the airline can consistently fill those seats
  • The question becomes how often French Bee can actually sell nearly all 488 of those seats; the airline does have the benefit of operating in markets with different seasons, but I still just don’t see this working all that well in winter (due to lack of school breaks, etc.)
  • While many passengers are willing to sacrifice comfort to save money, French Bee operates some ridiculously long flights, like the nearly 24 hour journey from Paris to Tahiti; are passengers willing to subject themselves to that (including 10-abreast seating) if the price is right?
  • Unless the airline can consistently fill those seats, it would make more sense for the airline to offer different types of seating products so that the airline can get more revenue per passenger; for example, the airline could also offer flat beds, and that would make a whole new crowd interested in flying the airline

To me this is going to be a very interesting plane to watch.

Bottom line

French Bee’s upcoming A350-1000s should be the world’s most efficient long haul aircraft in terms of per-seat operating costs. While that sounds great in theory, one has to wonder if they’ll be able to achieve load factors that make this worthwhile. Comfort aside, boarding a non-double decker with 487 other passengers just doesn’t sound fun, and that says nothing of the inflight experience.

What do you make of French Bee’s A350-1000 — brilliant or awful?

  1. Ben,

    This absolutely sounds miserable for a long flight. I certainly would except experienced fliers and your readers would avoid the plane. However, we are in the minority. I’m always shocked that the majority of fliers have no clue what plane they are flying in (some don’t even know the airline). I think in leisure destinations, most consumers will select the flight thats 1/3 or 1/2 of the price and won’t look further into much after that. Fascinating to see if this works!

  2. @Adam, as Ben notes, there’s nothing new about the density/discomfort of this plane vs others they have been flying for years (they began almost 3 years ago at SFO).

    The only thing new is the number of people per plane subjected to it.

  3. @Adam makes a good point, I think. Take my in-laws. They are retired, fairly well off, and have travel all over the world, for weeks at a time. To them, the plane, the airline, are just ways to get from point A to point B. A hotel is only a place to rest between 12 hour days of touring. That is what they like, and the transportation part is of no consequence to them. A twelve hour flight to China, pack a sandwich and a banana and you are good to go. My mother in-law flew business class twice, and my father in-law once, with me and my wife. A lounge to them is as foreign as an iceberg in the desert (my mother in-law has a deep purse, like a hamster stuffing its cheeks, if she ever gets to a lounge). Yet they have been to more places than most people will ever see, to include the US. They never complain about flights or rooms, just happy to be in a new place and explore. So, I think Adam has a valid point.

  4. Im curious about the number of passengers per restroom, especially for such a long flight.

    And does boarding start an hour+ in advance? The lack of multi-door boarding in modern aviation is a disaster

  5. 99% of flyers pick on price/time they dont even know what premium economy is. If the price and times are good this will be a hit if the price isnt right it will fail. Points pros like us will not factor one bit in the success of this airline/route.

  6. If you need to fly a budget airline to afford going to Tahiti, maybe you shouldn’t go to Tahiti.

  7. How is this different than Air Canada’s awful 777s that have something like 6 bathrooms for 400+ Y pax on TPAC flights?

  8. Sweet.

    ~450 of those pax are shoved into 16″ wide seats? I know the french like to get cozy, but this is a whole new level of intimate.

  9. Nope, NOPE, no way!
    I’ve flown to Tahiti from Asia in premium economy via New Zealand and that was painful enough.
    I world not consider this sardine can any day of any year in economy.

  10. I flew them PPT-SFO in Nov 2019. It was only an 8hr flight but it was quite cramped (was assigned middle seat with a less than ideal seat neighbor). Reminded me of the AirAsia flights in SE Asia. Difference being those are quite short. I couldn’t imagine flying them all the way to ORY or even in a more cramped cabin.

    Other than the cramped seats the flight itself was fine (check in was terrible but that seemed to be partly caused by PPT). I’m booked on them again for a trip in August (fingers crossed). This time I sprang for at least more legroom and an aisle seat.

  11. 10-abreast on the A350 is horrifying. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. But I really hope this doesn’t portend an industry-wide trend.

  12. You should review the EWR-ORY route in economy to let your readers know what they’d be in for.

  13. David – I think a 787 would balance fuel economy with premium fares, assuming you outfit it for lie-flat business and premium economy spacing. Further, making a destination exclusive is good for a lot of reasons. At a minimum, blocks of 16-20 neighboring passengers won’t come pre-infected with Covid on arrival.

    There are a lot of news sites reporting that this is the world’s best chance at rethinking extractive tourism (think: the constant parade of cruise lines in the Caribbean, Kyoto at any hour of the day between 10am and 6pm, most of western Europe between June and August and the cesspool of suntan lotion that was Hawaii.)

    If people want to go to purpose-built tourist sites like Vegas or Disney Orlando, no objection there.

  14. I don’t think it’s fair to compare to Norwegian and their failures. Yes, they over expanded and did so too quickly. They also had a LOT of bad luck between the 787 engine issues (not their fault), the MAX (not their fault), and then COVID (not their fault).

    With that said, I too would rather swim than take these flights.

  15. French Bee gives a new meaning to “Airbus”…more like a “Chicken Bus” from Central America…remember to check your livestock at the gate… =:-0

  16. Apart from it being uncomfortable if in fact they would even get full loads , which I highly doubt in today’s environment, most operators previously weren’t too successful in attracting a money making service like this.

  17. Not sure if I would find it funny or horrifying to read Lucky’s experience flying this route in economy class.

  18. There are times I am too cheap, even after scoring 5 nights at the conrad bora bora on points. To make up for the cost of the inter-island flights, we decided to fly French bee from sfo. Decided not to pay for seat assignments because that’s something we’ve never done.

    Worst decision ever. We were stuck in the 2 narrow seats in the middle of the middle row. Giant Polynesian tattoo artist to the right of us, two screaming kids in front of us. Suffice to say we did not sleep on this flight, but fortunately the excitement of landing in Tahiti made us feel refreshed. Hats off to those that brave this flight from Paris. Never again.

  19. French government subsidizes flights to “Dom Tom”/Overseas France including Reunion Islands and French Polynesia. I assume French Bee benefits from the subsidies. Also that a lot of the passengers are French government employees or something like that.

  20. Why’s everyone discussing this as if it’s a new development? French Bee has been flying A359s to RUN and PPT via SFO for years, and they’re just as dense as the A351s they’re gonna take delivery of soon. Also a few premium economy seats at the front and crazy ten-abreast economy in the back. The only difference with the -1000s is that they can fit more seats, but the actual density is basically the same. The concept has already proved itself over several years with the A359s, and if French Bee is taking delivery of A351s now, that means they’re confident that they can keep on filling their flights, and in fact need more capacity (thus the larger A350 variant).

  21. Puts me in mind of Freddie Laker’s “Skytrain” LGW-EWR All economy

    Undercut by BA, AA et al because they had J & F to subsidise.

    Then Virgin came along with cheap Y, but cleverly (arguably with Freddie Laker’s advice) flew “Upper Class” with all the trimmings and entered the price cut fight.

    They went head to head with BA and we see the result.

    Long haul economy buses are doomed to fail.

    Personally, apart sitting in a flying Radio City auditorium, the check-in, boarding, meal, toilets and deplaning, then baggage collection would completely kill it for me.

  22. It depends. If you are a family of three and you get three seats by the window, that’s fine. If you are a family of four, and you get the four center seats, also good. If you are a solo traveler and you sit next to an unpleasant stranger in a narrow seat, that’s terrible.

  23. Is the space per economy seat that much different? The big difference is the lack of business class seats and number of premium econ seats, so is the experience for an economy class flyer any different if the plane has 488 seats or 350 seats? I would think not.

    Now the same can’t be said for the crew working that flight. I’d sympathize with that.

  24. Emirates B777-300 (two class) with 10-across seating (about 450+ “seats”) with pax shoulders overlapping when seated straight, are as claustrophobic and as a bad as the reported french bee; full emergency evacuation in 90 seconds – we don’t want to talk about on such high density seating

  25. This sounds like a miserable experience and you couldn’t pay me enough to try it. Furthermore, I don’t see the authorities in PPT liking this very much, given that nearly 500 people will hit their airport at one time whenever this bus shows up. Long, crowded, uncomfortable and horrible – that’s how this sounds.

    One note though, regarding some of the comments. Many are taking this scolding tone because of “the virus”. OK, that’s applicable to the very short term. But, whether you like it or not, “the virus” will no longer be a factor by the end of this year. Airlines need to plan for the next 5-10 years when making capital decisions, so “the virus” would not figure into that.

    The rest of our lives will not revolve around “the virus”, in spite of what the douchey-looking 30 year old that I saw this morning (wearing a mask alone in his own car) may think.

  26. You get what you pay for
    However being an almost direct flight with affordable prices! That’s okay
    Surely Paris to Newark will fill up in no time during summer break
    Other times a wet lease or special charter will be profitable too

  27. One point that might need clarification. Passengers flying in “sardine class” may not just choose to be cramped but to get to a nice vacation desination it might be all they can afford or choose to pay. Paying 3-10 times what a cramped economy seat costs for a bed and more room is often beyond the means of many people who also like to travel. The airlines know this and it’s a tough business model selling flight with all business seats, some have tried and failed. I’ve done my share in both coach and business and for long haul I can usually get a reasonably priced business seat. For US domestic coach is just fine, I get on fiirst sit by window and read and rest. I can sleep on a red-eye in coach!

  28. You won’t be forced to stay in to your tiny seat for almost 24 hours because you left out my favorite part of the French Bee ORY-PPT experience. Every passenger has to deplane and go through customs at SFO. So you are crammed into your seat for 10 hours, get to wait an hour or 2 in line then get crammed into your seat for another 8 hours.

  29. French Carriers have a long history of running incredibly dense configurations to the DOM/TOM/Indian ocean markets. Air France maintains a distinct fleet for all except PPT only because it’s an extension of LAX.

    Other dense long haulcarriers long before French Bee air caribes , were UTA, AOM, TAT etc. I believe most of which have gone bust with the exception of UTA which was merged into Air France in the 90’s

  30. I once estimated that in a 10 hour flight from Madrid to Dallas with about 300 passengers on board, at the end of the flight, assuming the cabin’s air was not efficiently recycled, there was a digestive gas cloud of about 200 gallons, evenly distributed throughout the cabin.

    Do the engineers that come up with sardine can arrangements ever consider that the people flying will be quietly expelling the gaseous products of their digestion throughout the flight and contribute to the staleness of the air the passengers are breathing

  31. @Armand Alameda

    You’re forgetting EK521

    a 10 abreast 777 crashed at Dubai and the crew successfully evacuated all passengers with no loss of life, save for a ground firefighter.

    True it was 3 class config and pax count was around 300

  32. Thats incredible!

    The A350 is the lean mean flying machine.

    I have always been fascinated by what the A350 has done to flying long distances at a cost which allows airline companies to make a profit given how fuel efficient this plane is, with so many different configurations. On one hand there are the Singapore Airlines A350’s with all premium config with about 165 seats and now this French Bee with 488 on the same type of plane. In fact French Bee could have packed in 500 seats without PE!!The A350 does not look as big as the 777 also it looks leaner than the 787 but its really incredible how many seats can be packed into it.With its comfortable long distance flying without any take off weight or payload restrictions and fuel economy this aircraft beats a punch to the 777 and 787.

    With majority of the airlines retiring the A380, Airbus has been saved by the A350 which they can market has a sort of replacement for the A380 given how many seats they can pack into it.

    This blog is not a place where there will be endorsement for this French Bee dense config, but as a few have commented the group tour passenger is least bothered about the no of seats on a plane and the type. They just want to travel on a budget even to Tahiti.

    Reunion is a French territory where lot of people are workers who travel to France once a year on vacation. Hence they too are not Premium conscious travellers.

    The only down side is the post pandemic era where social distancing is a thing, this type of config is not ideal on a full flight.

  33. stogieguy7 – I agree in theory. The trajectory will probably be a great summer, and then an annual recurrence not unlike our current flu season. We will likely need booster shots annually.

    But there are a large number of people who skip flu shots and will likely skip this as well. Thanks to self-reenforcing idiots and their social media bubbles, I’m not entirely clear we will hit herd immunity. Like influenza, it’s likely to be a perpetual epidemic with higher mortality.

    I’d be interested in why you think that won’t be the case.

  34. High density seating is all good but this is a race to the bottom. If French Bee packs in 488 pax to make, say 10% profit, what’s to prevent someone to pack 500 pax to make maybe a 11% profit margin.

  35. @Porky

    Or indeed what’s to stop the heritage carriers going head to head on Y fares because they have huge income from the sharp end, and probably below the deck too!

    This has to be parallel routes, of course, so PPT and RUN may not apply, but if they try EWR it certainly would!

    My previous point, I think.

  36. Ouch! Can they even get a cart down that aisle ? Imagine how many times passengers will bump elbows shoulder etc and how many times passengers will get rammed by carts.. and what if you get someone large sitting next to you ?

  37. EXIT LIMIT is 480!

    The plane will NOT be certified airworthy with 488 seats. Frenchbee will have to remove eight (8) seats to be in compliance with the manufacturer’s exit limit of 480.

    Someone, please point this out to the airline, otherwise there will be a delay of entry into service.

    Reference (aerotime.aero):

  38. Are you really that shocked by the number 488? Of course, 488 seats for the A350-1000 is a lot, but there are airlines whose planes are more densely packed. As an example I will give a couple of such airlines on whose planes I was “lucky” to fly. As a first example, AzurAir Boeing 777-300ER – 531 seats, 7 business class seats and 524 economy class seats, AzurAir quietly uses these aircraft both on short-haul flights and on long-haul flights longer than 13 hours. As a second example, Rossiya Airlines B747-400 – 522 seats, 12 business class seat and 510 economy class seat. Of course, these planes are not as comfortable as they could be, and an 8-hour flight with Rossiya on board a B744 with 522 seats, in the cabin of which there is no multimedia system, no sockets, no USB ports is “a little” uncomfortable, but these flights are very cheap, and as a result, very popular. Since for most, the cheapest and fastest travel from point A to point B is more important, than the overpayment for comfortable movement from point A to point B.

  39. Airfrance KLM had an even denser 777 that they used for longhaul tourist routes. Absolute misery onboard. 28 inch pitch and narrow seats. 468 seats.

  40. Far too many pointless and irrelevant comments here from people saying how they’ll never set foot on this aircraft. Well – guess what – French Bee won’t lose any sleep over that as at least 99.99% of this site’s readers will never be within their target audience.
    Also, to all the armchair experts questioning the airline’s business model, do you seriously think you have a greater understanding of the finances of these routes than the airline’s own revenue management experts who probably spend all day crunching the numbers and will know their market inside out?
    If they weren’t performing well with with an A350-900 operation, they would hardly be going for a larger aircraft, would they?

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